This year, Scott DeRue left his position as professor at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business to become the youngest dean in the history of the school.
While DeRue is only a few months into the job, he is already giving indications about what his priorities are and where he expects the school to go. Recently, he sat down for an interview with Poets & Quants.
DeRue’s interview paints a picture of a dean interested in exploring innovations that will differentiate the school and update the curriculum for the twenty-first century. In DeRue’s words, “I didn’t get voted to this role to keep the status quo over the next decade.”
Instead, DeRue intends for the school to run a series of experiments in different ways of learning. He doesn’t anticipate that Ross will “blow up the curriculum,” but the school will try some new things.
“Most higher education organizations have a high aversion to failure,” DeRue explains. “It’s my responsibility to lower that fear. Many organizations don’t even have the conversation. So I say let’s try ten experiments. If six fail, that is fine. Four didn’t.”
One of DeRue’s goals is to extend the school’s experiential learning program, in which first-year MBA students spend seven weeks working on projects with companies around the world. This was the first year since the program’s launch in 1992 that more than half the projects took place outside the U.S.
But DeRue sees a chance to go further. He wants to “close the gap between doing business and learning business” to create “a world where students can actually run businesses.” In other words, he’s looking for a way to “go much more experiential and much more global.”
How might that be done? He points to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration as an example. The school runs the Statler Hotel, a “teaching hotel” where students engage in hands-on learning.
“Students learn how to run a hotel by running one in real time,” says DeRue. “You can imagine a world where we build a business like Cornell built a hotel.”
Besides experiential learning, DeRue sees room for innovation with online courses. He argues that in-person and online education can coexist peacefully because they serve different functions.
“Higher education content is and will be free,” he says. “We should just give the content away. Everybody says it will hurt the brands, but I don’t think that is true.” Referencing MIT’s OpenCourseWare, he points out that “MIT did this and it didn’t hurt them.”
As far as MOOCs, DeRue compares them to iTunes: “Credentials are disaggregating the degree just as iTunes made it possible to buy the two songs you wanted rather the entire CD you didn’t want from an artist. We’ll now give you a credential in finance based on the work you’ve done in a MOOC.”
Neither open course content nor low-cost MOOCs are a replacement for the traditional MBA, though. “Many need to get something more than just the song. The on-campus degree is your premium product.” If MOOCs are iTunes, DeRue says, the on-campus degree is “live music.”
To put these ideas into action, DeRue has begun holding faculty discussions on the future of business education. The general mood seems to be that new experiments are in the works even if the details haven’t been hashed out.
“Is there anxiety?” DeRue asks. “Sure. But people are also excited.”